What Albert Einstein Can Teach Us about Time

Time is
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is not.

Henry van Dyke. Music and Other Poems


In an inspirational episode, Does Time Exist, first aired on June 22, 2011, and a part of the great Through the Wormhole series, we are guided on an exciting journey exploring the entity of time. We all tend to take time for granted, but after careful consideration it becomes crystal clear how difficult it is to answer a deceptively simple question: What is time?

Could it be possible that time does not really exist?

Do past, present and future exist side by side?

Is time a real thing built into Universe? Or is it just an abstraction: something we humans created to keep our civilizations running?

There are different views on the concept of time, from the one that time is what keeps everything from happening all at once, that part of the world that orders events so they happen sequentially: from beginning to end; to the notion that time is something everyone of us is actively constructing in the brain.

Sir Isaac Newton had tried to describe time as a steady beep pounding behind the scenes on the Universe, as a giant clock set into motion by God, and as such, time was absolute. Albert Einstein opposed this with a simple explanation that we do not detect absolute time, but rather time in relation. To him, time is created by the relationships of the changes that happen in the Universe, and as such time is relational. This had become the basis of his general theory of relativity.

This was not a new idea, actually: some 2500 years before Einstein, philosopher Phormidities, applying his wit a utilizing simple philosophical deduction, had proven that motion is impossible, and hence time is an illusion. Although logical, back then no one knew what to make of this time denial, so the claim had remained in its original form.

When we ponder deeply, we realize that all space is here… so can it be that all time is here as well, and it is us who only experience it sequentially, one moment after the other? If this is true, time becomes the most stubborn psychological filter.

In this respect it is interesting to consider the thought of Julian Barbour who claims that Universe does not need time at all. Time is deduced from things and exists in slices of space. When we add here the amazing Wheeler–DeWitt equation that by pure functional differentiation gets rid of time as a constant, we cannot but conclude how there is no unique history at the deepest level of reality.

So, is time just a creation in order we remain sane, and is, as David Eagleman claims, schizophrenia nothing but a disorder in time perception?

When we spiral down this path, we have to ask

Why is there time?

Where did it come from?

And after all this pondering, I remain in awe after considering entropy, the level of chaos, which, in a way, does give time the direction. So, is there time, or is it just an integral part of space-time? And if so, is it eternal, lasting and everpresent, or it does not exist at all?

What is true is that we are here for a finite amount of time. We perceive time passing through change: seasons, aging, movement. So, to expand our limited time here, we must incite as much change in our lives as possible. It is as simple as that.

To make progress in physics, we have to keep asking What if? – even if it leads us nowhere… to solve the mystery we have to do the detective work. And that is the real beauty of science.

Reflections on time are simply astoundingly beautiful mathematics in its purest form. And, alas! – it is not a question whether everything occurs the way it does, but whether we are able to accept and comprehend it without ending mind-blown.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, not only the story on existence of time, but the entire Through the Wormhole series will take you to the most amazing and breathtaking places and leave you standing in awe.

Love Gina Wings